Saturday, April 3, 2010

Selecting the CPU

The first thing I do when building a new computer is start with the CPU. As mentioned in my previous post, I prefer AMD chips. It’s a personal preference and if I were to follow my own advice from that last post, I really should research and not just buy the comfort brand. Despite my contradiction, sometimes you just have to go with what you know. After all, we’re not all industry analysts and we all can’t keep up to date with every bit of changing technology.

To start the CPU search, head to the home page of the CPU of your choice and research what the latest in chips are. I can never remember the chipset names. For AMD, I can only remember the Athlon, Sempron, Phenom, and Opteron names and the general classification they are used in. In my opinion, Athlon is a chip near the end of its life cycle, being replaced in desktop PCs and workstations by the Phenom II. Opteron is still the server class. And Sempron is something that readers of this blog should not even consider unless buying a PC for your child… that doesn’t game.

During the days of single core CPUs, the best chip to buy was the highest clock speed at the price break. In other words, I could spend an extra $10 or $50 to get the next increment in clock speed. Once I got to the $200 increment, I didn’t bother going any faster. I still keep the pricing website bookmarked. With today’s multi-core chips, changing cache sizes, and different Front Side Bus (FSB) speeds (or equivalent technologies), clock speed is no longer the only criteria for value. As a matter of fact, many applications are still single threaded so you should just buy the fastest clock speed you can afford therefore making the decision easy. (SWGeek is starting a good series on PC building on his new blog and you can learn more about CPUs by linking here.)

I’m selecting the AMD Phenom II X2. None of the applications I typically run can utilize 4 cores. No reason to spend the extra money. I really like the idea of the energy efficient models, even if they are 4 core, and would consider the cost difference if the clock speeds were higher. That narrows me down to model numbers 545, 550, 550 “Black Edition,” and 555 “Black Edition.” There is very little price difference, so my choice will be dependent upon what available on Newegg at the time I make my purchase.

It just so happens to turn out that my preferred chip (AMD) happens to be on the upper curve from the last post so I do get to stick with what I know AND follow my advice as posted. (You can get more information on Which is better NOW by even though they don't agree with me.) There certainly is some great technology in Intel’s core i5 and i7 chips, but not enough to push me into buying an Intel chip when I combine the whole system performance. In my next session, I talk about selecting the right motherboard. It’s doesn’t matter how fast your CPU is if the motherboard can’t move the information around quick enough. Motherboard technology is where, in my opinion, AMD inches ahead of Intel in terms of overall system performance. Following that will be why I think ATI graphics are currently a “step” ahead of nVidia.

Also see AMD CPU Roadmap from pcgameshardware. I may just hold off on buying a new PC to get the 32nm chips.